Overall, it seems like 2012 has been a well-rounded year for Bay Area music. With solid albums from our San Francisco psych-rock standbys (Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, The Fresh & Onlys); tracks and remixes between East Bay electronic collectives (Yalls, James & Evander, Parentz); a robust darkwave uprising (The Soft Moon, Some Ember, Black Jeans, Group Rhoda); next-level hip-hop (Main Attrakionz, Shady Blaze, Antwon); as well as two female soloists releasing breakthrough albums in their respective genres (Jessica Pratt, Holly Herndon), there are a lot of local artists who deserve recognition this year.
To refresh your memory, and perhaps introduce you to tracks you may have missed, I've selected a few highlights from the past year that represent the Bay Area's potential for diverse and exciting music.
1. Jessica Pratt - "Night Faces"
The San Francisco-based folk vocalist said in an interview, "I just feel like San Francisco is a weird void, where if you stay here too long you kind of just get frozen in time and never really progress past a certain point." The somber single "Night Faces" seems to reflect that mood, winning the ears of listeners near and far.
2. Ty Segall - "The Hill"
With three outstanding albums to his credit, it's been a prolific year for Ty Segall. With snarling California cuts like "You're the Doctor", "I Bought My Eyes", and "Scissor People", it's impossible to choose a favorite. "The Hill" (from Twins) embodies San Francisco's counter-culture as Ty's polished songwriting draws inspiration from "taking acid on Bernal Hill," he told the crowd at Treasure Island Music Festival.
3. Holly Herndon - "Fade"
More than anything else released this year, Holly Herndon's Movement truly sounds like something I have never heard before. The Mills College student experiments with embodiment in electronic music performance by manipulating her vocals through a laptop, composing spine-tingling compositions of organic sound carried by a fleeting digital pulse.
4. Thee Oh Sees - "Lupine Dominus"
"Lupine Dominus" is a sinister sleeper single that slowly slithers its way up your spine. Whether it's because the hooks are so slippery or just because you're trying to figure out exactly what the hell John Dwyer is singing about, rest assured this SF psych burner will stay on repeat for months to come.
5. Steezy Ray Vibes - "Empty City"
The acoustic side project of Berkley's Dan Casey (a.k.a. Yalls) caught many by surprise, unaware of Casey's more traditional songwriting chops. "Empty City" builds from a simple guitar melody into an expansive and deeply reflective pop jam, with strategically placed drum beats and vocal hooks to keep the track loaded with vitality.
San Jose rapper Antwon spits hot fire over my favorite instrumental beat of 2010, Walsh's "Helicopter Does Not Exist". This cut from his Fantasy Beds Mixtape established the cadence and dexterity of this the Bay Area performer, laying the foundation for more original beats on End of Earth.
7. Some Ember - "Flowers Open"
8. The Soft Moon - "Want"
9. Shock - "Heaven"
10. Lil Ugly Mane - "Uneven Compromise"
Chasms - "Bad Evolution"
Christopher Owens - "Here We Go"
Dirty Ghosts - "Katana Rock"
The Fresh & Onlys - "Presence of Mind"
Grass Widow - "Spock On MUNI"
Magic Trick - "Invisible at Midnight"
Main Attrakionz - "Cloud Body"
5kinAndBone5 - "Reset"
Terry Malts - "Nauseous"
Two Gallants - "Broken Eyes"